We theatre actors don't have to be patient.
We know as soon as a moment happens on stage if it connects with our audience or not. There is applause. There is laughter. There may even be sniffles. But in the world of film, actors don't get that instant gratification.
Last summer I was cast in a short film called Oh-fer that I am (finally) getting to watch tonight at its premiere. It was a pretty special experience, in large part because the writer and director was my old grad school professor, Dr. Martin. And I'm pleased to share that the film has already gotten positive reception. It was given an Award of Excellence, Faculty Video - Narrative Category at the Broadcast Education Association Festival of Media Arts.
Today I'm doing a quick sit-down with Oh-fer's writer and director, Dr. Carey Martin to chat about the film and what it's like to be a professor who moonlights as a film director and screen writer. Enjoy!
Q&A with Oh-fer Writer/Director, Dr. Carey Martin
HS: Let's talk about that old adage "those who can't do, teach." Clearly not true with you! Can you walk me through your career trajectory--what led to going from the newsroom to the classroom and then ultimately to directing this film?
CM: I got my bachelor’s in radio-TV-film from Northwestern University and went to work in Charleston, SC; first, very briefly, in radio, then in local broadcast TV (news & production), then in non-profit medical education video. My work in the educational field showed me that teaching is something I love; I truly feel it’s my calling. So I quit my job and went back to school.
I earned my master of fine arts in motion picture, television & recording arts from Florida State University’s “Film School,” and then my PhD in communication from FSU as well. When I finished my course work for the doctorate, I got a job working for IBM in Atlanta, GA, as part of one of their earlier units working with digital video. When I finished my dissertation, I moved on into higher ed. I taught in Florida and in North Carolina, and joined Liberty’s faculty in 2007.
At Liberty, I chaired the thesis of a master’s student named Jacob Johnston, and at the same time taught an undergraduate named Kristen Chambers. After they both graduated, with their partner Lem Curran, they formed an independent production company called Mirari Pictures. While they were doing that, I wrote the script for Oh-fer, which won the Best of Competition, Faculty Scriptwriting - Short Category award in the 2011 BEA Festival of Media Arts. A couple of years later, I showed the script to Kristen & Jake.
To sum up, Mirari Pictures optioned Oh-fer, we did preproduction last spring, shot in two weekends this past summer, edited it this fall and just made the deadline to submit it to the Broadcast Education Association festival, coming up in April.
HS: Where did you get the idea to write Oh-fer?
CM: Oh-fer is very loosely based on my own experience in baseball. The story also has roots in something I was observing even as a young graduate instructor, where students from troubled families would share that their older siblings had been as important in their upbringings as their parents were. It began as a short story I wrote for a creative writing class in graduate school. My professor loved it and told me I needed to do something more with it beyond the class. Unfortunately this was just after the market for short stories had mostly vanished, but just before the potential of the blogosphere exploded. So I really had no place to do anything with it. Being a writer, though, I never throw anything away (at least not on purpose) so I held onto it, through four or five moves/states/jobs. Finally I dusted it off a few summers ago here in Lynchburg, and decided to turn it into a script, with the results above.
HS: How challenging is it to direct a piece you wrote? How are the challenges different than directing a piece you did not conceive?
CM: When directing something I didn’t write, all conflicts with the writer are external; when directing something I did write, it’s all internal. (Since tone is hard on the internet, let me note this was said with a smile.) Really, when I’m directing something I didn’t write, I can be fairly dispassionate when something has to be cut or changed. On the other hand, I feel I have to work even harder to really absorb the heartbeat of the story, because I firmly believe the old adage “If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage!”
When I’m directing something I did write, like this piece, I have to consciously shift gears as it were, from writer into director mode. For example, in the original story, Dawn — the older sibling to my protagonist — is described as energetic, athletic, and tall. The actress I cast, Tatiana Harman, has talent and energy up to eleven; and if memory serves, she was an actual competitive athlete. Her sport, though, was gymnastics, and like most competitive gymnasts, “tall” is not the first word one would use to describe her. So I told her to think tall thoughts, and her performance was a home run — or, to use the gymnastics metaphor, at least a 9.5 out of 10!
One challenge that’s the same for me, whether I wrote it or not, is auditions. I’ve done some acting myself, which on the one hand I recommend to any aspiring director — you really understand the acting process so much better when you’ve gone through it — but on the other hand I also know what it’s like to not get the part, or even a call back. So, I hate that I can’t cast everyone — I basically want to find something for everybody. That’s when it’s important for a director to have good producers to remind you that that’s not necessarily a great idea. (Again,since tone is hard on the internet, let me note this was also said with a smile.)
HS: Tell me about the team you put together to bring this film to life.
CM: Giving credit where credit is due, Providence brought this team together. I’ve already noted how Jake & Kristen met through Liberty and started Mirari after their time as students of mine. Not only were they fantastic producers, but Jake doubles as my AD for much of the shoot, and Kristen edited the picture. Further, their work on previous projects gave them excellent contacts in the Central VA filmmaking community. For example, it was their work that brought us our great director of photography, CT Bell. The wonderful audio we have is the work of my faculty colleague at Liberty, Kornel Gerstner. And, looking over the credits, roughly half the crew are former or current students of mine — and I must say, as a professor, it’s a fantastic experience to work with your students when they’ve matured into colleagues.
As far as cast goes, I have to sing the praises of Chris Nelson, my colleague over in Liberty’s theater department. His contacts got us our truly amazing young cast, William Arrington in the lead role as Craig, and Isabel and Jay Norton co-starring as his best friends Shannon and Brick. Networking is such an important part of this business, but I was blessed on this project — most of the network came to me!
HS: Where do you anticipate people being able to see the film?
CM: The first public screening will be Thursday, March 24, at 7 pm in the Hancock Welcome Center in Lynchburg. After that, we’re looking at several film festivals. We'll be announcing those soon.
HS: What's your next project?
CM: I currently have a feature script in development. And, it further develops my story-world, because one of the characters in Oh-fer plays a prominent role in the feature.
Intriguing! Could it be about my pivotal role of "Warrior's Cool Aunt"? Something tells me "no" but I will stay tuned anyway. ;-) Many thanks to Dr. Martin for taking the time to chat. If you want to see a few photos from the premiere (and my other random adventures) follow my Instagram here.
Read advice from Carey and other thriving creatives in my eBook “5 Minute Mentor for Creatives”. Grab your copy here.